Monthly Archives: December 2018

In God We Trust–Not in Us

I am writing this column on December 26. Christmas is not even close to being over. This is only the second of the “twelve days of Christmas,” which was a season a very long time before it was a song.

I’m whistling in the wind, I know, but I prefer to stand with the wisdom of the centuries on this one and not with Western marketing. My little $5 tree and the lights in my humble shed behind the house will stay up until Twelfth Night, the evening of January 5.

I’m not sure if I’m a Yuletide purist or just the son of my mother. Mom liked Christmas and hated taking down trees. Ours often stood in the corner of the living room until February, by which time the tree was a genuine incendiary device we could have sold to terrorists for serious money had we not been patriotic Americans. (My wife, flaunting tradition and my maternal heritage, will slam the lid on the whole thing and shove the plastic tree into a box much sooner than I would prefer.)

Because I’m a Christmas traditionalist, I always hate to see Christmas go. I’m also quirky, eccentric, and loving my second childhood as, I hope, I’m growing younger inside as I grow older outside.

But I also have a deeper reason perhaps worthy of some reflection. You see, at Christmas, for just a little while, we almost get it. We almost understand that genuine beauty and light and joy and life itself do not proceed from us and are not about us. What happened at Bethlehem was something God did. (And though I’d not be legalistic about it, I see genuine wisdom and spiritual blessing in the truly Christian tradition of the preparation time of Advent leading to the sweet 12-day Christmas season.)

We could have sat through a million “success” seminars, strategically planned our hearts out, burned out our calculators creating fine business models, centered on ourselves in a thousand ways, and we’d never have thought of sending God’s Son from heaven and laying him in a manger. Even if we’d thought of it, we’d be as likely to start a nuclear reaction by rubbing two sticks together as to do for ourselves and our world what only God could do by his power. At Christmas, we see with a little clarity, which is far more than usual and about the best we ever muster, that everything we really need in this life is about God and from him, not us.

No wonder it’s a let-down when the lights come down and the lists of resolutions go up. We were centered on God’s great symphony; now we tend to focus again on our own little performance playing “Chop-sticks” on a plastic toy piano. We were enthralled by God’s power; now the temptation is to center on ours, take back the stage, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, start rubbing two sticks together, and get busy trying to do for ourselves what only God can do.

No matter when you take the tree and the lights down, remember the lesson of Bethlehem. In God we trust. Not in us.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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Christmas Is Only as Strong as Its Weakest Link

I don’t usually think of Christmas and chains as going together, unless I’m reading about the ponderously-chained Ghost of Christmas Past who so terrorized old Ebenezer Scrooge! But I believe this to be true: Christmas is a “chain” which is only as strong as its weakest link.

If Christmas deals only with lights and tinsel, egg nog and poinsettias (all of which I enjoy very much, I hope you understand), and the Yuletide joy and peace, love and good will, we sing about are just artificial twinkles and largely illusory light, then Christmas is a weak and pathetic thing which can’t possibly stand the test of life and time and which will fade a long time before the January sales (and credit card bills) end.

If Christmas has to do only with parties and good times, but nothing to do with hospital rooms and disgusting diagnoses . . .

If Christmas has to do only with smiles and “Merry Christmases” and nothing to do with hope at a graveside . . .

If Christmas has to do only with sales and not souls, presents and not His Presence, holiday cheer but not lifelong Joy . . .

If Christmas has to do only with Jingle Bells and nothing to do with “God with us,” well, then, Christmas is not up to the task of making a real difference in our lives, and it’s just one more momentary diversion for the despairing, one more false hope for people who know no hope, and it certainly won’t make much difference in life, or in death, or in anything at all very real or substantial.

But if Christmas, and all that is best about this good season, points to real light and hope, glimmering reflections from the Father of Lights, the Giver of Joy, the Sender of the very best Gift, then the Christ of Christmas can use this time of celebration to point us to light that truly is stronger than darkness, hope that is genuinely stronger than despair, and life that is ultimately and infinitely stronger than death.

Then we discover that the Light of Christmas is real indeed because He is real, and life is far more substantial than death.

Then Christmas means something beautiful and wonderful and real. And Christmas joy can and will last forever.

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! Merry Christmas!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Song of Christmas Is a Song of Hope

Hope. One of the most beautiful of words, hope is very near the heart of this season.

For me, the Christmas-singing season usually starts in earnest about the second week in December. I start listening to Christmas music sooner than that, and I’ll usually sing one or two Christmas programs earlier, but the sleigh really gets moving in that second week. And whenever I sing those songs, at the center of the music is hope.

I hope I won’t mess up by forgetting the words or, worse, playing fast and loose with the pitch. I hope nobody’s ears will begin bleeding before I’m done. I hope nobody will throw anything.

But the hope I have in mind is much deeper than that.

From the time I set up the equipment, climb onto the stool, and start filling the mike, it is hope itself that I really want to start flowing from the speakers. I know that sad songs have their place in this world. I’ve not forgotten that the writers of the Psalms at times wrote songs of lament.

Even as we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” we know Christ comes as our ransom; a heavy price will be paid. But we still sing his coming, and our tears are mixed with joy and sorrow, sorrow and joy.

You see, sad songs and hopeless songs are not the same. The “psalms of lament” always end on a note of hope: “We cry now, and for very good reasons. Hear us, O Lord! But we know where to bring our tears, and we know who will wipe them away. We know that joy comes in the morning, and we know from whence it comes!” In that is real hope, and genuine hope is always stronger and longer-lasting than meaninglessness and despair.

If you want to find a “singer” to continually wail about the ugliness of life or wallow as a victim and scream about life’s unfairness, spreading bile and accusation and even filth, you’ll need to find someone with no hope. Sadly, they’ll not be hard to find.

Hope is my reason to sing, and nothing is more hopeful, more joyful, more full of love, than the Child who entered our world in that tiny form at Bethlehem. If His light is within us, then every twinkle on every tree, or glimmer of every icicle, or sparkle of every child’s wide eyes bears witness to Bethlehem’s eternal joy.

Sometimes during a Christmas performance, I’ll introduce and sing some special songs, some (I hope) beautiful music perhaps new to my listeners’ ears to help them see yet other glimmers of His hope and joy, and that’s fun.

Sometimes I’ll talk to an audience about a song they’ve long known and tell them its story that they probably didn’t, and then I’ll sing it anew.

But often I think my favorite part is simply to sing in the background of the conversation and food and laughter the songs folks know and love, the songs that wrap softly around each of us, warm us up, and quietly say to our souls, “It’s back, that lovely Christmas hope, and if I’m not home quite yet, this music tells my soul, I’m closer, and I’m loved.”

And so I sing. You’d be surprised how easy it is to watch and revel in the hugs and smiles, laughter and warmth, hope and joy, to be thanking God for the blessing of filling these ears, and still be singing. The trick during those times is to let the music waft through unobtrusively, to sing mostly what they know and delight to welcome back, the old song-friends that hold hands with this Christmas and sweet Christmases before. They have a common Ancestor, these Christmases, singing His song of hope in His every son, every daughter.

 

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! And Merry Christmas!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Only One Child Really Is Wisdom’s Child

If extraterrestrials were to land in our part of the world seeking intelligent life, I often think they’d return to their mother ship reporting that none exists. I do not believe extraterrestrials exist, but on this point, I tend to agree with their nonexistent little selves.

We pay for little plastic bottles filled up with water most often from municipal water supplies exotic because they are not ours. Refilling a bottle from our own tap is evidently unbearably difficult.

We pay appalling prices for devices designed primarily for use in communication, chain ourselves to them as their indentured servants, and allow them to snuff out real communication with folks we love in the very same room.

The same country that once sent barely-college-age kids to fight for freedom and dodge (or not) bullets and shrapnel in world wars now sends kids to colleges with “safe zones” lest reality and free speech be too much for them to bear.

Sorry for this picture, but in our culture, I could actually pull my pants down around my ankles, show off my underwear, and whine that people are “disrespecting” me. May I summon all the eloquence of the English language to comment, “Duh.”

In this land where most of us have way too much to eat, models starve themselves to try to look or be anorexic while over 20,000 people in our world die of hunger each day. Shrink wrap fashions in our land seem absolutely designed to make girls of normal weight suddenly look and feel like they’re twenty pounds over the “limit” and deprive them of their already lagging self-esteem. As a grandfather of some beautiful little girls approaching the teenage years, I confess that if I hear anyone say “weight” around them, I will be sorely tempted to nail his or her tongue to the wall and set the fool afire.

That’s not funny, but, forgive me, this tickles my “truth is stranger than fiction” funny bone: In Texas, we just witnessed a Senate race between a Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke and a Rafael Edward Cruz. It’s not hard to figure out which candidate leans pretty hard left and which leans pretty hard right, or, for whatever difference it makes (none), which is of Irish descent and which of Cuban, but it was a good reminder to avoid stereotypes. If an Ian Alexander Sean O’Guitierrez runs for governor, I’ll not try to guess his politics, but I’ll likely vote for him just to get to chuckle—and for that aforementioned reminder.

And, back to the “Emperor Has No Clothes But We Buy Them Anyway” fashion category, we’re quite used to folks, mostly with no more holes in their heads than the general population, buying jeans with put-there-on-purpose rips for which they pay good money in pursuit of holey-ness. My favorite old Henley shirt has developed gaping holes in the sleeve-ends. I hate to part with it, but I’m tempted to jack up the price, pay someone to sneak it in to a teeny or tweeny section of Macy’s, start a trend, and start raking in the profits.

Long ago, Jesus said basically that Wisdom was everybody’s mama, or at least that everyone claimed to be her (wiser than average) child. We do crazy things in her name.

Yet how’s this for universe-class crazy, completely “over the top”? God sending his only Son as a baby in Bethlehem! But it wasn’t crazy at all. Within it was the breathtaking wisdom of God himself, mixed with unimaginable love.

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Christmas Trees Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful

My earliest Christmas memories are mostly wrapped around our family’s Christmas trees.

I remember Mom making creamy hot chocolate and my sister stacking the spindle of the old record player with an inch-high pile of vintage vinyl Christmas music by Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and the Norman Luboff Choir.

Most years the tree had already been bought at (where else?) Amarillo’s Boy Scout Troop 80 Christmas tree lot. I was a member of Troop 80 and thus expected to help sell trees each year. My younger brother was not, but he was a wheeler-dealer sort who liked selling trees and often, as I recall, managed to pawn off more trees than most of the bona fide boy scouts. Jacob (I mean, Jim) always felt Jacob of old settled for far too little when he sold his hungry brother Esau that bowl of stew and only got a birthright for it. Jim would’ve held out for hard cash and then the birthright at the end as a balloon payment.

We’d lean the tree in the garage for a day or a few on its amputation-site stump in a bucket of water while it waited to be lit and glorified. Anchoring the tree in the stand was a chore. Jim and I would crawl under the scratchy boughs and slide around on our wood floor to turn each screw just the right amount. It was never straight the first time.

Then my 15-years-older sister, the unquestioned head honcho of the process, would ascend to perform the task of highest honor as she put on the lights (bubble lights, snowball lights, and all), a job in later years graciously bequeathed to me.

Then we would hang the ornaments, a tedious task but nothing like as bad as the final stage in the process: hanging the icicles.

I don’t see those long, thin, silvery strands of foil or plastic, those “icicles,” on trees much anymore. I hope never again to have to put them on one of mine.

According to my sister, they had to be hung with great care, one at a time. Ten million or so came in a box. You’d drag one out of the box and carefully place it over a tree branch. It was essential, my sister assured us, to start at the back near the trunk and make sure the icicle hung straight down on both sides of the branch. Straight down. No clumps. Which is why Jim’s preferred method of grabbing a paw-full of icicles and launching the whole wad in the general direction of the tree was sternly forbidden. No. One at a time. Until you froze there, died there, decayed there, and Christmas never came, and it was spring and you were still hanging icicles. One at a time.

I don’t know what we thought would happen—apart from sure death—if we didn’t hang the icicles exactly right. Would Santa’s sleigh suddenly crash in flight and the FAA later determine and publish for the whole world full of weeping giftless children to see that the cause was icing—not on the sleigh but improper tree icicling by two Shelburne boys at 125 N. Goliad, Amarillo, Texas, whose wanton and reckless disregard had killed Santa?

I’m sure we never did it “right.” But I remember wandering into the living room as a little lad clad in those great PJs that came complete with feet, lying down almost under the tree, looking up through its branches, and drinking in the beauty.

By God’s grace, Christmas trees don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Neither do lives.

 

 

 You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


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